On receiving the recognition, Dr Rhodes, who works at the Cawthron Institute, said:, "This was completely unexpected and is definitely a tribute to the Cawthron team.
"The research I'm involved in brings together scientists with expertise in many different fields so any successes for our "Seafood Safety" programme are a joint effort."
The Queen’s Birthday Honours List recognises people who contribute outstanding community service and whose achievements enhance national identity.
Dr Rhodes is one of New Zealand’s pre-eminent scientists with a distinguished career, spanning over 30 years at Cawthron Institute. Her work has revolutionised the management of marine algal blooms and biotoxins in shellfish domestically and overseas, and has eliminated the need for arcane mouse testing. In recognition of her significant research, the benthic dinoflagellate Ostreopsis rhodesae was recently named in Dr Rhodes’ honour.
Cawthron Chief Executive Professor Charles Eason said the Order of Merit is befitting of Dr Rhodes’ contribution to science and marine farming.
He said: "Lesley is internationally renowned for her research leadership in the fields of algae, harmful algae, and the safe export of New Zealand seafood. She developed our internationally significant Cawthron Institute Culture Collection of Microalgae, published over 100 world-class papers, and facilitated the $300 Million shellfish export industry through her work leading the Safe New Zealand Seafood programme.
"Importantly, Dr Rhodes has also been a champion for women in science leadership roles and continues to mentor our bright minds."
Cawthron Board of Trustees Chairman Ian Kearney, ONZM, nominated Dr Rhodes for the accolade and advised she has performed a tremendous service to New Zealand through her science.
"Dr Rhodes embodies all that it means to be an exceptional scientist, demonstrating outstanding mentorship to young scientists, excellent science communication skills, and innovation in her research.
"She’s had a significant influence on domestic and international science outcomes, and her recognition as Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit is well-deserved," said Mr Kearney.
Many scientists across all career levels supported Dr Rhodes nomination, citing her inspiration, guidance, and leadership.